• H3 Health Dr Jeff Foster discussing health checks Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Prevention vs Cure: the Principles behind a Health Check

Our Medical Director, Dr Jeff Foster, explains the principles behind health MOTs and the move towards preventative health care.

Dr Jeff Foster
Dr Jeff FosterMedical Director & Male Health Lead

Dr Jeff Foster is a Men’s Health specialist and one of the founders of H3Health.

You can find out more about Dr Foster by viewing his latest articles and biography .

Taking control of your health

Despite being a doctor for nearly 20 years, I still see patients who attend clinic boasting the fact that they have not been to their GP for  30+ years, as if this is a thing to be proud of.

Historically, medicine has always taken a rather reactive approach to health; if you have chest pain call 999, if you have a cough go see your doctor, or if you get a bite attend your local pharmacy.  Of course, these are important signposts that people should be aware of, but where is the health promotion for those that want to maximise their health and wellbeing, and reduce their chances of developing diseases in the future?

About health optimisation

Generally, illness prevention and health optimisation has fallen into the lifestyle advice of “eat well, exercise and get a good night’s sleep”, and while this is clearly important, it will not prevent the onset of all illnesses.

Furthermore, health optimisation has tended to sit outside the remit of doctors who tend to only treat established illness and disease. But not in all cases, and this is where the idea of a health check has come in.  There are many conditions such as high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, low testosterone, chronic kidney disease, (and many more), which, if caught early, can reduce the chances of more serious complications occurring in the future.

Some of these conditions have no symptoms, and some, (such as low testosterone), may be mistaken for the normal ageing process and therefore may be dismissed.  Without symptoms, many men will not go to their doctor to be tested, which increases the risk of complications and more serious illnesses developing over time.

What health check options are available?

The NHS offers a free health check for everyone aged 40-74 every 5 years, (provided you do not already have medical condition that excludes you from this screen).  It tests for metabolic and cardiovascular risk and looks at conditions such as high cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes.  Within the confines and budget restrictions of what the NHS can offer, the over 40’s health check is great, and has picked up silent medical conditions in thousands of people before they even developed symptoms.  But is this enough?

You might decide to pay for a more in-depth, private health assessment, and can easily spend over a thousand pounds for this, (although I wouldn’t).  Some private health checks put you on bike, measure your VO2 max, may boast to have more than 40 different health markers, or ask you stand in a big scanner while it measures all your body fat (and irradiates you at the same time).  In practice, many of these are not necessary and provide little in the way of truly beneficial data that  can alter health outcomes.

What to look for in a health check

So, if you are looking for a more detailed health check, but don’t know where to go, or which one to choose, here are my 5 top pieces of advice:

1.       Make sure it is a doctor that does the assessment.  The main reason for this is the ability for a doctor to deviate from the standard template.  A health check should cover all your medical concerns and not be limited by the fact your symptoms do not match the set of fixed questions the person performing the test asks you.

2.       Too cheap or too much is bad.  We often underestimate how much healthcare costs.  A quality health check should have several hundred pound’s worth of blood tests that provide enough detail to be useful to you but is not so expensive it become prohibitive.

3.       Don’t fall for funny tests and gimmicks.  As a guy in his 40s who does a bit of cycling now and again or goes to the gym a few times a week, does knowing your VO2 max actually help you anyway? Probably not.  Look at the whether the tests offered will really improve your health. And if you’re not sure, ask.

4.        Make sure the person who does your health check is the same person who follows you up. The worst thing to get from a health check is a bit of paper with a load of data and no explanation of what it means.  This is your information and it should be explained to you in a way that means something applicable to your health

5.       Get a prescription and a plan.  The whole point of a health check is to understand your own health better, and if needed, change your lifestyle and medicines accordingly. The person that has done your health check should do this for you. Be very wary of any health check that makes a diagnosis but then says “go back to your GP to get treatment”.

Do you have further questions or concerns?

We have a team of doctors who specialise in men’s and women’s health. If you’d like to speak to a doctor about health checks, low testosterone, menopause, or any of the topics we’ve touched on you can make a booking here – to make it easy we offer consultations online or face to face, whichever you prefer.

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